Non-dairy milk alternatives have become quite popular over the last several years. Most of the families we take care of have tried soy or almond beverages. A few have even tried rice and coconut beverages. Many people ask us if there are other options…the short answer is… YES! Several companies have developed new non-dairy products, many of which are being sold in “regular” grocery stores, not just specialty stores.
Non-dairy beverages are not right for every child. They tend to be very low in calories and protein per ounce. Because most children in our clinic require high calorie beverages for optimal growth, we typically recommend fortifying non-dairy beverages. Children with dairy allergies or intolerances fortify with an amino acid formula (e.g. Elecare Jr or Neocate Jr). Children who can tolerate dairy typically fortify with Carnation Instant Breakfast or a powdered toddler formula. Non-dairy beverages are a good source of calcium and vitamin D and an option for children who eat low amounts of these nutrients in their overall diet.
The following list is not to be confused as an endorsement for any of the named products and does not include all of the non-dairy alternatives on the market. Instead, this is a list of the most popular non-dairy beverages used by families in our clinic. If your family favorite is not listed, please share it in the comments!
Cashew Drink: Several companies make cashew beverages: Silk, So Delicious, and Imagine Foods are the most popular in our clinic. Cashew milk has a creamy feel, a mild nut taste, and is high in calcium. It is also among the lowest calories (about 25 calories per 8 oz) of non-dairy beverages.
Pea Protein: The newest kid on the dairy alternative block, pea protein first became popular with adults and was only available in a powder form in specialty stores. That changed in the last year when Ripple was introduced in the refrigerator section of many stores. Silk, also introduce their Protein Nutmilk, which added pea protein to a blended almond and cashew milk. Also in the last year, Kate’s Farm introduced their line of oral pea protein and brown rice oral supplements to the market. Pea protein milk and milk blends are much higher in protein than other dairy alternatives with about 8 grams protein per 8 ounce serving, the same as cow’s milk.
Hemp or Hemp Seed Milk: Living Harvest and Pacific Natural offer hemp milk in shelf-stable cartons. Hemp milk is high in fat and naturally includes omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. It tends to be more expensive than other milk alternatives, but can be a good alternative for families wanting to provide a plant-based source of fatty acids. With about 140 calories per 8 ounces it is also a higher calorie beverage than most nut milks.
Oat milk: Although it is not new to the market, oat milk has increasing availability in stores. Prior to the launch of hemp and pea protein drinks, oat provided the highest calories and protein with the lowest fat of the dairy alternatives. An added benefit of oat milk is that it includes 2 g soluble fiber per 8 ounce serving, the same as a packet of instant oatmeal. As far as we know, Pacific Natural is the only manufacturer of oat milk in the United States.
You may be wondering about goat milk. Why isn’t that on this list? The proteins in goat milk are very similar to the proteins in cow’s milk, too similar in fact. Children who have allergies or intolerances to cow’s milk are very likely to have the same reaction to goat milk and should not drink it. Goat’s milk is an option for children who do not like the taste of cow’s milk or non-dairy beverages.
We hope you enjoyed this overview of some of the most popular dairy alternatives on the market. We are very open to discussion about the use of such products in our feeding clinic as long as patients are over one year of age and our dietitians are able to calculate and recommend calories per ounce necessary for good growth. As previously mentioned, dairy alternatives are not right for every child. We always recommend consulting with your provider before starting a specialized formula of any kind.
Written by Lisa Richardson, one of our highly trained Pediatric Dietitians.